Solar, the newest form of energy, has arrived. This energy, radiating from the sun, doesn't differentiate climates, working in either hot weather or cold weather. And the most amazing result takes place once solar panels are installed-- the solar panels rest quietly, and money is made from pure sunshine!
Hawkins County Schools, located in Northeast Tennessee, became the first school system in the state to install and generate power from solar utilizing TVA's Generation Partnership Program. It was with the assistance of TerraShares, Hannah Solar, Holston Electric Cooperative, Powell Valley Electric Cooperative, Comer Electric, and Precision Electric that Hawkins County Schools was able to install 1-200 kW system and 2-100 kW systems on three schools. This was accomplished before TVA changed their program, allowing only 50 kW systems. In the next eight months, Hawkins County Schools will be moving toward installing as many 50 kW systems as possible, generating power and money.
In addition, the solar installation is adding a new dimension in learning and teaching to students. The Facility and Maintenance Department for the school system has designed and built a special, portable platform that holds an actual solar panel, giving students the opportunity to see and touch a solar panel. The display also contains information on the amount of power being generated from the solar panels on the roof of the school, the number of homes that could be powered by those panels, and the amount of coal that is saved each year from the power that is generated by the solar panels. As a "hands-on" tool, the display not only allows students to actually see specific examples of renewable energy, but it also gives the classroom teacher a unique teaching tool that is "real-world" to students. The solar display can be utilized for both math and science classes, and serves as an important learning tool to stimulate interest in a growing industry of renewable energy.
Providing secure, reliable, and clean energy is only one of the many beneficial aspects of using a renewable energy source. The solar panels have a 25 year life span requiring very little maintenance. Although the prime location for the installation of solar panels is roof tops, ground mount systems provide another alternative location with easier installation, as well as "shade structures" that utilize the panel on the roof of the structure. Hawkins County Schools is considering the installation of both ground mount panels and shade structure in the near future. As both the shade and ground systems allow for a more "visual" system, this will also assist in providing additional learning environments for students. The "shade structures" also have the ability to provide opportunities for "green ideas" from students, such as capturing rain water for use in gardens or landscape areas. The solar shade structures could provide an area for additional recycling containers that would aid in the reduction of material going to a landfill. The ideas of incorporating solar energy lessons into the classroom are endless.
There is no "low-hanging fruit" that will save millions of dollars by completing one or two items; it takes the successful completion of several projects to lead to substantial money savings for a school system. These savings can actually fund the salary of eight to fifteen positions, therefore saving and often creating jobs. However, for a solar project to be successful, a school system has to have the total and complete participation of everyone-the school board, the director, the supervisors, principals, teachers, maintenance personnel, and custodians. But the most important group of people that hold a vital key to the success of the venture is the students. It is with their involvement and cooperation that learning how to conserve energy for the future becomes a unique experience. Each project that allows a school system to save money can be turned into an educational tool not only to assist teachers in their everyday job of teaching, but also to teach students about real-world opportunities that are created from both involvement and concern for the environment. These are the true keys to guiding every student toward success.
The solar project for Hawkins County Schools has provided numerous possibilities for stimulating student learning and thinking for years to come. Who would have conceived that the rural school district of Hawkins County in Northeast Tennessee would be leading the state in the conception, installation, and generation of solar energy? This opportunity became a reality with the vision, the presentation, and the leadership of the idea from the Hawkins County Schools Facilities and Maintenance Director and Department, the Hawkins County Director of Schools, and the Hawkins County School Board. With absolutely no money invested or spent, the Solar Project of Hawkins County Schools is bringing much needed revenue in to a growing school system that encourages personnel and students to think "outside the box." The best is yet to come-the revenue will keep coming in as long as the sun continues to shine.
William E. (Bill) Shedden
Director of Facilities and Maintenance
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